Okay, how to say this without spoilers?
Range of Ghosts is epic fantasy. The Internet may need more kittens, always more kittens, and in a similar vein fantasy readers always need more great sweeping adventures that pit Good Guys, some of them female, versus legitimately scary Evil Guys. Tales that explore the nature of life, death, politics, parenting, charting the right course for yourself, loyalty, and little posers like what love really means.
And before you say “Yeah, Alyx, but you loooove epic fantasy, you would say that!” Actually, the truth is that while I like the stuff, epic fantasy isn’t so much my bag, baby. Of all the stripes of speculative fiction, it’s probably the one I read least. Which brings me to point two…
Elizabeth Bear wrote it. Guys, come on. Elizabeth Bear! If this woman called me up and said, “I’ve written a novel in eight point font about a guy who almost meets a woman, and then spends 500 pages thinking about how he should do something about that, with flowery metaphors and the occasional dip into watching paint dry, wanna read it?” I’d give it a whirl. Because her writing is that great.
Did I mention that it’s not European Medieval Epic Fantasy? There’s nothing wrong with Euromedieval fantasy, don’t get me wrong, but the historical terrain of Range of Ghosts is drawn from Asia, from the cultures that spawned Ghengis Khan. Its politics are merciless and bloody and deeply intriguing. (And if this argument makes your bum hum, consider getting Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon, too!)
Bansh: NO, not my sister’s one-time cat, Bansh the Slasher, though I understand why this might be confused.
Elizabeth Bear’s Bansh is the horse who travels with the main guy, Temur. This awesome, heroic, wonderful mare whose name translates to Dumpling–how can you not love that?–very nearly steals the show. Bear’s horse details are wonderful and very true to every riding experience I’ve ever had. Bansh is at once thoroughly Horse and more than she seems.
I love her her with the tru tru luuuuv of a horse-crazy twelve-year-old. I want a Bansh stuffie and a glamor shot with glitter for my bedroom wall. You will too.
The horse culture of the plains folk in this book is enormously rich. Bansh is a star, but the world of Temur and his people is all about the horse, which is only fair. So, having said that, look! Horse cover!
Kitteh! It says something that I got to the horse before the cat, but there’s nothing I can say, nothing at all, about the cat content in this novel without telling you too damned much. There is serious Kitteh. The Kitteh is awesome. That is all.
What I said about the cat also goes for certain romantic storylines, which are smokin’ hot.
The magic in this book… okay, I am running out of ways to say So Effing Cool. It has exactly the thing that I like in a magic system, which is a strong connection to real-world physics, something that makes enchantment logical and a useful tool, complete with checks and balances, benefits and costs. It runs the gamut from handy and helpful to scary deadly.
And while I’m at it, the Wizard Samarkar, and the price she pays to become a mage? Whoa. Samarkar’s the steely silk thread that binds this whole sprawling epic together. She’s so worthy. Also, her backstory’s fantastic.
Weird outlying reason: Some of you may know that Elizabeth Bear is a passionate Criminal Minds fan, and until recently was doing a write-up on every episode as it aired. (I think she’s taking time off that right now so she can write more superfantastic Eternal Sky books.) I watch Crimmies in part because I really enjoy the write-ups–unabashed fannish squeeing can be so delightful–and one of the things Bear consistently writes about is the show’s tendency to have abduction victims really fight for their lives. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that in this book, someone gets grabbed, and that if you also follow the geeks with guns thread in Bear’s blog, you may be interested in seeing how she imbues her kidnappee with agency.
(Sweet) Misery loves company. Now that I have been obliged to wait for the next book in the Eternal Sky series, with bated breath and pangs of longing, so too should you.